School League Tables are something I’ve always taken with a pinch of salt because I’m a firm believer in the idea that you quite simply cannot measure a school’s value in terms of the academic achievements of its students alone.
When I was 15-years-old I dropped out of what would have been considered a rather good school because I was completely and utterly depressed. Without going into detail, teenage bitchiness drove me to the lowest low, and I quite simply gave up. It was tough because I had always loved school and was a consistent high-achiever. I would have always taken great pride in doing well too but that paled into insignificance when I was completely and utterly miserable
I spent the next year at home, never sat the Junior Certificate, and actually considered dropping out all together. In fact I was on holidays in Spain with my mother, trying to figure out what I’d do with the rest of my life, when the telephone rang and the offer that changed my life was laid on the table. To be fair, changed is not the word: The offer that saved my life would be the best way to describe it.
I can still vividly recall the first time I set foot in Pobalscoil Neasain in Baldoyle. Dread and fear took over almost immediately, and, as I sat down in the principal’s office, I honestly wished I could be anywhere else in the world: If only I had realised that I was sitting with two women who were about to offer me the greatest opportunity of my life. I walked out that day feeling as though someone finally believed that I had been completely and utterly tormented and was willing to make sure it would never happen again.
That said, I still came home after my first day in tears. Not because anyone was in any way unkind, in fact all the students and teachers I met were beyond helpful, but because I was completely and utterly terrified of what being back at school meant. If you had told me on that first day that I would go on to achieve amazing things in that school I never would have believed you.
By the time I left Pobalscoil Neasain in May 2008 I had represented my school with the Commenius Project in Latvia, in several debating competitions in both the Irish and English language, and in the Rotary Youth Leadership Competition. I had represented Ireland at the Model European Parliament, earned a Bronze Gaisce Award, travelled to Italy and Germany, sung on a stage for the first time in my life, screamed my head off in a stage adaptation of David Copperfield, loved, lost, made life-long friends, and, perhaps most importantly, I had regained control of my own life. Pobalscoil Neasain taught me how to be happy and gave me a degree of self-confidence that I could never have attained anywhere else.
It’s been five years since I walked out of that school but I still go back to help out at the annual Open Night. You see I find that when a lot of parents are considering Secondary Schools the only thing they really care about is the class size, or the average number of students who go on to University. I think that’s incredibly disheartening and that’s why I like being there when someone asks the question. It doesn’t matter how big the class is when the teachers genuinely care and grades aren’t worth a damn if you’re miserable.
It’s because I went to a small community school in the suburbs of North Dublin that I got 520 points in the Leaving Certificate. It’s because I went to a community school with the most supportive and encouraging staff that I had the confidence to go on to get a First Class Honours in both my BA and my Masters. It’s because I went to a small community school in North Dublin that I am the person that’s typing up this blog post today. In fact, and I type this without hesitation, it’s because of those teachers that I am alive.
That’s why I don’t need a League Table to tell me whether or not my school was good enough: I know in my heart that it’s in a league of it’s own.